ROUND 4 - Bahrain 19-21 April 2013
Circuit Length: 5.412 Km
Lap Record: 1:31.447 = 213.054 km/h (see below)
Many sources say the Sakhir lap record is held by Michael Schumacher at 1m 30.252s. Not so: the German set that time in year one at Bahrain, 2004, when the circuit measured 5.417 km. It was subsequently shortened to 5.412 for the races from 2005-09. So the lap record belongs to a different driver altogether. It was set in a McLaren Mercedes in 2005; it was 1:31.447, an average speed of 213.054; and it was set by a stand-in driver for whom it was the only fastest lap of his F1 career. Can you name him?
Briefly extended in 2010, the Sakhir circuit had its twiddly bits taken out again for the 2012 event (there was no race in 2011 because of political unrest). It has 15 corners, 9 left, six right, with three high-speed spots at Turns 5, 9 and 12. Top speed is around 313 km/h, the lap average around 200. Around 70% of the lap distance is spent at full throttle. Pirelli will bring the Orange (hard) and White (medium) P Zero tyres. Ferrari have most wins in Bahrain’s eight-race history with four; the only drivers with multiple wins are Fernando Alonso (three, two for Renault) and Felipe Massa.
Sand in the sandwiches! F1’s desert stop brings with it the resultant levels of sand on the circuit, with their effect on overall grip. “Wherever you look around the track you can just see sand in the distance and you notice it in the paddock too,” says Kimi Raïkkönen. Putting it another way, Sauber’s Nico Hülkenberg says the paddock always has a touch of the 1001 Nights! Demands on the brakes are among the highest of the season; dissipating heat is the biggest problem. One other unusual point about Bahrain: there has only ever been one Safety Car intervention in the race’s history.
Fernando’s on fire again! Alonso’s Ferrari swept to an impressive Chinese victory last weekend and with their Sakhir track record they can be expected to be among the leading lights in the desert. “I hadn’t won since Germany and this has a special feeling because it was a tricky race full of action,” the Spaniard said after his Shanghai success. “Along with the second place I got in Australia, this result shows that the car is competitive and that we are working in the right direction to always be in the fight for the podium.”
Also up there is 2008 world champion Lewis Hamilton: the 28-year-old Englishman comes off two successive podiums for his new Mercedes masters. “With each race, I am becoming more settled in the team and more comfortable in my car,” he said after Shanghai, “and we were very happy with the pole and podium finish. There are some areas where we need to improve to close that gap to the fastest cars and we’re working hard to identify and develop those. There’s a limit to what we can do before Bahrain but I’ll be talking to my engineers before we arrive at the circuit and seeing where we can improve in the short term.”
Was Dan Ricciardo’s best-ever result only a short-term thing helped by the strange circumstances in China? The young West Australian has six points on the board already thanks to that seventh place, and that’s 60% of his 2012 haul already just three races into the season.
Let’s take a trip down the back of the grid this time and call Jules Bianchi hot as well. The French 21-year-old has qualified 19th for each round so far but his racing has caught the eye: 15th-13th-15th is a pretty decent string of results for a Marussia man. One man who hasn’t failed to notice is Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali: “The first three races, he has had incredible pace with due respect to the car he has,” says the highly-respected Domenicali. “I’m very pleased for him because he has put in a lot of effort to improve and is part of our programme.” That’s the Ferrari Driver Academy…
Bianchi’s success means Caterham, usually ahead of Marussia in the past, find themselves in the cold zone. They have responded by altering their driver line-up. Plans for Chinese driver Ma Qing Hua will be announced soon; meanwhile Alex Rossi takes his place in the GP2 team and will benefit from F1 interaction as well, while former race driver Heikki Kovalainen is back in a track role from Bahrain on to help with development work.
“It’s obviously great news that I’ll be on track in Bahrain and Spain and I’m really looking forward to getting back to work and helping the team as much as I can,” said the 31-year-old Finn. “I’ll be taking part in the two FP1 sessions in Bahrain and Barcelona to give the team my input on the new parts we’re bringing to those races, and I’ll be working closely with the race drivers and the engineers on track and back at Leafield to help everyone get the most out of the new package.” Coincidentally Bahrain is where Heikki – then a McLaren driver – set his second and last fastest lap in F1 in 2008.
Elsewhere in the field, Sergio Pérez is under pressure to get more out of his recalcitrant McLaren. “He is not satisfied with himself, and nor should he be,” says team principal Martin Whitmarsh after the Mexican’s first three races have yielded just two points. And Esteban Gutiérrez at Sauber is also in the spotlight after that crash in China which has earned him a five-place grid penalty for Bahrain.
Pole Position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing); 1:32.422 = 210.806 km/h1st: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing) 1:35.10.990
2nd: Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus F1 Team)
3rd: Romain Grosjean (Lotus F1 Team)
Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing); 1:36.379 = 202.151 km/h on Lap 41
Mark Webber has never been on the Bahrain podium, but this would be a good weekend to start: it will be his 200th Grand Prix and a top-10 finish would be his 100th points-scoring performance in F1. Dan Ricciardo had a superb qualifying to start sixth last year but slipped back to 15th in the race.
Odd note answer:
It was Pedro de la Rosa, deputising for Juan Pablo Montoya – Pedro’s only race appearance of the 2005 season.